Interview · Tea with Mrs B

Tea with Mrs B: Emily Paull

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Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, Well-Behaved Women, is Emily Paull.

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(Image Credit: Charlotte Guest)

Emily Paull is a writer, blogger, editor and former bookseller from Western Australia. Her work has appeared in Westerly as well as two previous Margaret River anthologies. Her debut collection of short stories will be published by Margaret River Press later in 2019.

Hello Emily. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series.  To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?

I’m partial to an Earl Grey Tea with a ginger nut biscuit on the side, thank you kindly.

Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?

Well-Behaved Women will be my first full length published book, but I’ve had stories published in four other anthologies (three of those with my publisher Margaret River Press). As well as writing short stories, I also write historical fiction, and I’ve written two novels in that genre (that I am willing to admit to.) As far as the short stories go, they’re mostly realism but I do like to dabble in the realms of magical realism and the Australian Gothic.

Well-Behaved Women will soon be released. Can you describe it in just a sentence?

Seventeen stories about modern women navigating their way around the everyday trespasses that the world brings against them.

Where did the inspiration for the title of your book come from?

It’s from a quote by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Sometimes you see it as ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’ and sometimes you see it as ‘Well-behaved women rarely make history’ but the meaning is roughly the same. I like it because while the title of the book implies that the stories are about women doing as they’re told, in reality these women are doing anything but, and I hope that readers seeing the first half of the quote on the title will automatically think of the second half of the quote too. I think it’s very appropriate for the times we live in.

How long did it take you to write Well-Behaved Women?

I didn’t write these stories all at once, it was only about five years ago that the idea of putting together a collection came to mind, but the earliest story in the collection is one called ‘Pretending’ which is about a young step-father trying to understand the teenage girl he now lives with. I wrote that when I was an undergraduate at Murdoch University in 2009 or 2010, so if we use that as a rough benchmark, this collection has been a decade in the making. The most recent story in the collection is ‘Nana’s House’ which I wrote at Write Nights—a program I co-facilitate at the fabulous Centre for Stories.

There are some powerful themes explored in Well-Behaved Women. Did you find it challenging to incorporate these themes into the collection?

Not really—I think there was an intense desire to explore one of these themes behind the writing of each piece. For me, writing short stories seems to work best when I’m deeply unsettled by something. You can see in some of the pieces the way that the narrative tries to work through a particular anxiety, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris that I explore in the story ‘A Moveable Farce’. A lot of the stories were inspired by big events that were covered in the news, like ‘The Things We Rescued’ was inspired by the bushfires we had in W.A. a few years back where an entire town called Yarloop was razed to the ground. Emotionally, of course it was challenging to get to the heart of the issues, and to go deep enough, be honest enough. There were a few stories that didn’t make the cut for this collection, and I think those were the ones that were just too challenging at this point in time—perhaps too emotionally challenging. I’ll keep working on those for a future book.

Is there a particular story in the collection that you are most proud of?

I’m really proud of all of them, and I’m indebted to my editor, Laurie Steed, for pushing me to really test the limits of what I am capable of as a writer. He didn’t let me settle for Good Enough when Great was achievable. I’m a little bit astonished that some of these pieces came from me. The opening story in the collection, ‘The Sea Also Waits’ (which is about a world-champion free diver who disappears into the ocean), has a special place in my mind though because the experience of writing it was the closest I have ever come to literally channelling the muse. The words seemed to flow through me, like something else was controlling my hands. It was spooky. It’s had very little changed from that point too.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Well-Behaved Women?

I hope they’ll be a little fired up, and a little inspired by how amazing the women in their life are if they truly pay attention.

How will you celebrate the official release of Well-Behaved Women?

I’m having a book party at Rabble Books and Games in Maylands, where Margaret River Press’s incredible publishing officer Jay Anderson is going to interview me. I am really looking forward to it. Everyone is welcome, head to Rabble Books’ Facebook page to get a ticket (it’s free).

Also, I think I will probably treat myself to some pancakes. I really love pancakes.

Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?

I share an office with my partner, but I work part time so I mostly get the room to myself during the day. My desk is covered in books. Actually most surfaces in our house are covered in books these days, I need to read faster to keep up! I have a white, skinny IKEA desk, and next to my laptop I have some pictures people have given me, including a lovely Flamingo watercolour from my friend Chelsea and a really cool picture of the Dingo Flour Mill that my brother gave me for Christmas. (I like that one because the Mill is a feature in one of my historical novels!) I need to have a fairly tidy workspace to get started so a writing session usually begins with a tidying session. I’m fairly tidy anyway though, aside from all the piles of books…

What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?

Don’t just talk about being a writer, or becoming a writer, especially on social media. Be a writer every day of your life if it’s what you love and what you want to do. That means writing, if not every day then as much as you can, and when you’re not writing, collect ideas, observe things and people and most importantly, read literature that moves you!

How do you balance life with writing?

Thankfully, I work part time, so while I don’t always have a surplus of money, I have the time of my hands to get the writing done. The most important thing is making time for writing, so I make sure that I am going to things like Write Night, or setting myself little challenges when I am in the middle of a project, such as making sure I do ten minutes of writing every night, six nights a week, minimum. But I’m also doing my Masters in Information Studies, because I want to become a librarian, and even though my plan was to spend my six-week break in between semesters writing the second draft of a World War One novel, I’m listening to my body and my body is telling me it needs a rest. So, I’m resting and reading and researching, and occasionally writing. That’s a kind of balance too, I think.

Is there a genre you haven’t tried writing yet, but want to in the future?

My partner really wants me to try science fiction but I don’t know that I have the basis for it. I’d quite like to write some Daphne Du Maurier-esque gothic horror perhaps. I’ve just read Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter which was absolutely incredible and I also really love Laura Purcell’s novels. Perhaps something like that!

What is next on the horizon for Emily Paull? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?

I’m a third of the way in to a rewrite of a novel that I’ve called The Turning Tide which is the story of a young woman growing up in Subiaco in Western Australia around the time of the First World War. It’s only after her (much older) husband disappears at The Somme that she starts to think about who she is as a person rather than as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother etc. and so she begins to indulge in her passion for books and writes Australian bush fairy tales. But all of this is threatened when her husband turns up in an army hospital, having just recovered his memories. There’s a bit of a tribute to May Gibbs in there but also a love story—and of course the whole thing is a love story between a woman and storytelling.

What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?

I keep a list of these in my journal! I was extremely excited to read Holden Sheppard’s Invisible Boys, which definitely lived up to the hype; Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (amazing) and David Nicholls’ Sweet Sorrow (also amazing). It’s been a really good reading year actually, and I am excited to see what 2020 brings.

If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?

This answer could change in an instant, but I’ll say the Edwardian period—for research! I doubt it would have been a very nice time to be a headstrong woman, and I don’t fancy the idea of having to wear a corset.

Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?

Albus Dumbledore. If only he were real…

Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Emily.  Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Well-Behaved Women!

well bhaved women small.jpgIn moments disquieting or quietly inspiring, this collection considers the complexity of the connections we make—with our family, friends and neighbours, and with those met briefly or never at all. In her timely debut, Emily Paull voices a chorus of characters that reveal and re-evaluate the expectations of women in Australia today—after all, well-behaved women rarely make history.

Well-Behaved Women by Emily Paull will be published on 1st December 2019 by Margaret River Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

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